Today we conclude the second half of our interview with the John Manuel, the outstanding editor of the fantastic Baseball America magazine. Again, I thank John for his participation and my friend Athan, John's brother, for helping put this together.
FJB: Is Stephen Strasburg the #1 pick in the 2009 draft? And if so, how good is he?
JM: Yes, and as good or better at this stage of development as Mark Prior was in 2001, when we acclaimed him as the Best College Pitcher Ever. I saw him this summer (just a bullpen, other staffers saw him pitch vs. Canada) . . . suffice it to say all our reports on him are incredible, and he's the top guy for next year.
FJB: In your mind, does Ryan Zimmerman still project as a perennial all-star? Or should we now really expect him to be a very good, but not great, player?
JM: I don't think he ever was considered as good as David Wright, a perennial all-star. Better defender than Wright but not that offensive upside. He's a 20 homer guy, not a 30 homer guy. That's always been who he was supposed to be. If the Nats said otherwise they were deluding themselves. The fact he's a three-hole hitter from Day One in the big leagues tells you the rest of their team was not good enough. He's one of my favorite players but probably should hit fifth for a championship team, not third or fourth.
FJB: Is Joel Hanrahan a closer?
JM: He throws hard . . . closers are about makeup, not stuff, in my opinion, and also about throwing consistent strikes. Relievers have to throw strikes and have no fear of failure. I'm not sure Hanrahan is that guy; more of a setup guy for me. But he was a big time prospect with the Dodgers about 5 years ago, so the stuff isn't really a question. Command is. I root for Iowa guys like him for whatever that's worth.
FJB: How good is Jesus Flores?
JM: I think he's one of three position players on the team (Milledge & Zimmerman are the others) who are current MLB Nats who could be starters on a championship-caliber team. That is a small number. I'm not a Kearns believer so I don't put him in that group. Others I know and respect disagree with me there.
FJB: What do you expect from Austin Kearns over the next 2-3 years?
JM: He's just not as good as Jim Bowden thinks. So he walks a lot . . . big deal. I want my corner OFs to hit for power and be run producers, and he's not that. He's a second-division player at this stage of his career, and peaked as a rookie. Not a guy you build around for me.
FJB: Lightening round—give us your quick reaction, 4-5 words or so, on the following Nationals prospects:
JM: Good before hurt; gets a mulligan for '08, don't panic
FJB: Jordan Zimmermann
JM: Top pitcher in organization
FJB: Ross Detwiler
JM: Major question mark, very poor season
FJB: Collin Balester
JM: Solid third or fourth starter; not gonna be a star but solid
FJB: Michael Burgess
JM: Probably top hitting prospect in organization
FJB: Zech Zincola
JM: Never a guy I was a fan off; makeup and conditioning have been questions since his amateur days.
FJB: Jack McGeary
JM: Not a fan of his contract setup/situation. Impossible to judge GCL stats; haven't talked to a scout about him this year.
FJB: Josh Smoker
JM: Still just 18, good that he pitched some this year
FJB: What is the earliest date that an optimistic but not silly Nationals fan could reasonably hope to attend a playoff game at Nationals Park?
JM: Anything's possible, seriously. John Lannan is pretty good; Elijah Dukes was when healthy; if everything comes together, 2011.
FJB: Any other interesting tidbits or thoughts to share about our Washington Nationals?
JM: I get MASN & MASN 2 (no time for the entire MLB package), so even though I'm not a fan per se, I watch more Nats games than I do of any other MLB team (except for the Orioles). So I see why Nats fans are upset. This is a pitiful team at the MLB level this year, and it's hard to judge the performance of any individual player or the manager & coaches when the team is this poor, this low on talent. It's not fair to the players to send out a team with Ronnie Belliard or Aaron Boone hitting 4 or 5 hole. So I understand fans' frustrations, and I hope that things change for the better soon.